Wednesday, March 20, 2013
March 20, 1990: The Lakers retire Kareem's #33
You can watch the ceremony here:
Before he was known as Kareem he was known Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Junior, people called him Lew. Born and raised in New York he took up the game of basketball at an early age. He was always the tallest kid in his class and by eighth grade he could dunk the ball. He became a full fledged star in high school by setting New York City high school records in scoring and rebounds. His high school squad put together a stretch of 71 straight wins and won three straight city titles. His phenomenal play led him to UCLA where he would be coached by the legendary John Wooden.
The Milwaukee Bucks won a coin toss that gave them the first pick in the 1969 draft and Alcindor was their man. The impact he made in Milwaukee was profound, the team went from a 27 win season to a 56 win season in his first year with the club. Alcindor took home rookie of the year honors and he was just getting started. The Bucks brought in a future Hall of Famer in Oscar Robertson to compliment Alcindor and both players helped the Bucks win it all in 1971. Alcindor not only won his first ring that season, he won his first scoring title and was named league MVP. One day after the Bucks won the title Alcindor announced that he had converted to Islam and would be known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He may have had a different name but he was the same dominant force on the court. Jabbar helped Milwaukee win their division for four seasons in a row and claimed two more MVP awards while taking home another scoring title in 1972. He led the Bucks all the way to the 7th game of the NBA Finals in 1974 but lost in 7 games to the Boston Celtics. Following that season Jabbar decided that Milwaukee didn't address his cultural needs and requested to be traded to L.A. or New York. The Bucks listened and struck a deal with L.A., The Bucks received center Elmore Smith, Brian Winters, Junior Bridgeman and Dave Winters in return for Jabbar and a reserve player named Walt Wesley. Bridgeman had a solid career with Milwaukee and he even had his number retired by the team in 1988 but all four of those men combined scored 32,744 in their careers which is not even close to the production that Kareem produced.
The Kareem era in L.A. began with a bang, he averaged 27.7 points per game on his way to setting the rebound record that still stands today. He won his fourth league MVP award and they were happy with the deal they had made. His play on the court was absolutely dominant he won another MVP award before Magic Johnson arrived in 1980. Together they transformed the Lakers into one of the greatest dynasties in NBA history. He won took home sixth MVP award in 1980 and helped bring the Lakers a title. Kareem and Magic found themselves in The NBA Finals 8 times in the 1980's and took home the Championship Trophy 5 of those times. When he announced that he would be retiring following the '88-'89 season he went on a farewell tour. It was very similar to what we watched last year with Chipper Jones from the Atlanta Braves, everywhere he played he received a standing ovation. Even with him playing for their opponent the fans knew they were witnessing one of the greatest players to ever take the court. After the Lakers lost to Detroit in the '89 NBA Finals the Kareem era had come to a close. It was one of the greatest eras that any city would ever get to experience with a player and they let him know that by raising his #33 to the rafters, then just last year they presented a statue that has Kareem shooting his famous sky hook. Forever a legend.